09:41 – There is no time to tarry. Stopping the storm is impossible and with an army of horrors likely to begin surging towards them, the group, battered, bleeding, and succumbing to the storm, turn around and run for their lives.
09:41 – 11:10 – A nightmare, headlong run at full speed through the deadly storm, pursued by their unseen enemies. Pushing themselves and the magic of the steeds to their limits, the group make excellent headway, taking advantage of their prior knowledge of the area, and using the distortions of the steeds substance as a rough guide as to the direction of the portal (and therefore, Point Constant relative to it).
As they race through the deadly terrain, leaping over razor ice and gritting their teeth against the deadly bite of the freezing winds, they hear a deep blare from behind them, as if of a great war horn, and feel a deep sense of dread stir within them.
Eventually they lose their monstrous pursuers in the screaming blur, and shortly after break free of the storms' edge.
11:20 – The group, shivering with fright and cold, half unconscious from the wounds they received and almost gibbering with fear, enter Point Constant again.
11:21 – 11:40 – The group give Ezloz and Caspian a quick run down of the situation, and help them complete their battle map of the region beyond the storm. The Ghaerduun is briefly overwhelmed by the magnitude of what they face, but she quickly gathers her wits, and tells the group to rest up, for she fears their trials are far from over.
11:41 – 12:00 – The group get a bit to eat, and are bombarded with questions from the other folks at the station. When they tell the gathered experts and soldiers about the ziggurat, they are met with derision and disbelief from a few, silent shock from the rest.
12:00 – 18:45 – The group rest up, and all except Ormid enjoy a brief succor from the horrors they are tangled with.
Ormid finds his dreams troubled. Old memories of bad times come alive once more, and he feels his anxiety and weariness increasing. Then, he finds himself sitting in a comfortable bar he once knew as a young man, the sun slanting in through paned glass windows, picked out in the pipesmoke that hangs in blue bands in the air. The atmosphere is welcoming, familiar. He feels safe.
He knows this cannot be real. He knows that this very inn burned down when he was in his early twenties; destroyed by the predations of the Gorgoth, its owners and the patrons in there slain in a horrific massacre, and deep within himself he knows that something is very, very wrong.
Then he finds himself eating a gorgeous meal of steak and kidney pie, with roasted vegetables and a delicious onion sauce. The steam curls up, fragrant and rich, and he takes a mouthful of the cold, “Old Beyard's Scrumpy” that sits by his plate.
“Nice to be back isn't it” says a handsome, urbane man across the table, his delicate, manicured fingers parted around a neatly rolled Tabac.
Ormid frowns. Something within him is screaming silently that this man is dangerous, that he is not, cannot, be what he seems. Then, the artificer notices the fingers...there are too many...six...no eight...no four...
The man gives a cold laugh, and his eyes turn empty and cold. The warm sunlight bleeds pale and cold, and the comforting aura of the bar is suddenly masked by a cold, ancient hunger, an ineffable evil that threatens to overwhelm the sleeping artificer and crush his sanity.
“Why can't you mortals just accept that things are as they seem” laments the daemon, “What is this inbuilt need to ruin everything.”
“You owe me artificer, and I think I know a way you can repay your debt and achieve your goals.”
The artificer, against his better sense manages to ask how, his voice appearing in the room without him actually speaking, his throat thick and sore.
“I have only hatred for the Gennamene, and know much about them, their stronghold and their ways. I also have many scores to settle in the physical universe, which in my current, banished state, I cannot attend to.
“I therefore propose a mutually beneficial pact.”
Ormid is revolted, but almost against his will finds himself asking what this would involve.
The daemon smiles, takes a long pull on the tabac, and slowly exhales a long thread of blue smoke. His smile is vile, full of the evil of the pit; the smile of a cat as it closes in on its prey.
“I know the rune sequence for a teleport circle within the ziggurat's heart, close to the gigantic mechanism – a soul engine – that keeps the whole thing afloat. Summon me to the physical plane and let me loose to do my work, and I shall bestow upon you this sequence.
“The Gennamene are not what you think they are. They are ancient, powerful and almost impossible to truly put down. I know how this can be done, and I owe them a debt of vengeance for my long imprisonment within that thing you faced.
Ormid struggles against the dream, trying to wake himself up. He has no intention of making pact with a daemon, knowing full well that daemons are lies made manifest and cannot, must not, be trusted or dealt with. However, his voice floats around him, projected by that destructive part of his being that we all have.
The daemon's grin widens, his teeth sharp, his eyes now slitted. The comforting pub fades to a ghost image, superimposed over nothingness...
“A scroll with the rituals needed to call me exists, buried in a tomb...”
The daemon never finishes his words, for Ormid suddenly finds his strength, grabbing hold of his revulsion and arcane power and forcing the dream away...forcing the real world into this distortion.
A cold wind howls into the bar, sweeping at the smoke, and tearing at the daemon. The wind grows colder, and the walls and furnishings begin to melt into shadow. Beyond the fabric of the inn, the artificer sees a terrible, hungry void, filled with alien, malign sentience, and he struggles to maintain his sanity as the darkness lurches forwards, trying to pull him back before wakefulness steals him away...
...But it fails, and Ormid, soaked in sweat, panting with panic, jerks awake with the gasp of a drowning man sucking in his first lungful of air.
19:30 – The group meet with Ezloz after freshening up and eating a small breakfast. The Ghaerduun looks exhausted, and sounds bone tired. She informs the group that she has been trying to fathom a way to end the storm and buy their forces a break in the upcoming battles. She also informs the group that there are reports that the soldiers of the two war hosts are getting restless, and that the host commanders are becoming worried that unless they are unleashed soon, they could break free and either charge to their deaths in the storm, or simply seek other game – the city of Uln'Hülder being the nearest sport.
The group discuss various plans with the Ghaerduun, and they conclude that the only feasible way of closing the portal and handicapping the enemy, is to somehow generate a portal of sufficient magnitude within the existing gate to trigger a massive release of energy (according to “Kelter's first Principle”).
The problem is getting a portal open in the right spot, which is deep within the city, as well as how to generate a portal of sufficient power to create a catastrophic release of energy.
Then Ezloz has an idea. She tells the group about an old associate who is obsessed with dimensional magics and portals – one Leskin Holdt. Holdt, she explains, recently sent her an invite to an expedition to Anathar, the Lesser Risen Isle – one of the continents that was lost for the whole 2nd Age, which returned when the planet was reformed at the start of the 3rd Age; a place of ancient magic, where remnants of the progenitor races are found, and where powerful magics beyond reckoning can be found. Holdt was talking about having found hints of an “Settari portal device” and was being supported by the hoary city of Iradesh to seek these out. In his communication he included the rune sequence of a portal he would be using to reach an area close to the site.
Ezloz feels that if the group could persuade Leskin to turn his thoughts towards their problem, he could come up with a solution. She also states that she will communicate a number of mage schools to see if they can help, though she makes it clear that she holds little hope of that.
The group agree to find Leskin, and Ezloz warns them that Leskin can be “difficult” and that “although quite brilliant, he is arrogant, single minded and snobbish”. In order to help introductions, she gives the group a letter.
20:30 – 21:00 – The group prepare for their journey to the tropical coast of Anathar.
21:00 – A portal is opened to Anathar, and the group step through...
21:01 – ...Into a dark chamber of ancient stone, who's cyclopean floor is covered by a thin layer of white sand and piles of dried, dead leaves.
The group take in their surroundings, noting that the rock is an unusual basalt like stone, mottled green and grey, and carved with curling runes and rounded glyphs. The air is uncomfortably warm after their time In the bitter cold of the arctic and the portal, and all the group feel suddenly crushed by its oppressive weight. Large sections of the floor are missing, leaving black spaces from which issues the distant sound of gently surging waters and a soft, salty breeze – a mirror to the distant sounds of breakers whispering from outside.
A single door leads from this place, leading to a sandy, sloped avenue, lined by swaying coconut and green-nut palms. Silhouetted in the doorway, his back to the group, is a male human. He smokes a bundle of twigs, and coughs harshly between inhalations.
The group are silent as they try to weigh him up, and Llewellyn quietly creeps right up behind him, before brightly saying “Hi there!”
The man – a young human in his late teens or early twenties – freaks! He screams, soils himself and generally goes to pieces.
21:02 - Unfortunately, it seems his wailing has attracted the attention of several predators in the nearby jungle; three huge panther like creatures with midnight blue fur, six powerful legs, and growing from each of its shoulder, a flexible tentacle. They shimmer and gleam strangely as they move, and Ormid recognises them as Shift Cats (Displacer Beasts).
At sight of these things, the human goes into shock and falls to the ground sobbing. Llewellyn drags him back into the temple, and the monsters suddenly pounce; moving with terrible speed an agility.
21:03 – 21:05 – The group battle the monsters. One falls into the darkness below the temple as a section of floor gives out an collapses. The other two are somewhat contained by the oily breath of Ferrous. One of the monsters is much larger than the other two, but in truth, the monsters pose little threat to the party, and they are slain quite quickly.
21:05 – Outside the temple, thfree more humans charge towards the scene of the battle, screaming “Leave him alone” in trade.
21:06 – The boy on the floor with the group is dragged to his feet, sobbing, a long thread of gob hanging from his bottom lip. “We haven't hurt him” shouts Ormid, as the warforged begins sawing the head off the largest Shift Cat.
The three skid to a halt outside the temple, their faces a mix of competing emotions; anger, fear, concern, hate. One, a Kai'Yassanian male with strong features, draws a tiny pocket knife, whilst the female – young, with the olive complexion and dark eyes of an Iradeshian – begins to scream at the group to “Let Merlan go!”
21:10 - It takes some effort (especially when Veteran tears the monsters head free in a burst of gore and ripping sounds), but the group eventually convince the four that they mean no harm. The three newcomers are Andrew Northwynn (human male Fey), Yuan Shi (human male, Kai'Yassan) and Cassiopeia Axus (Female Human, Iradesh).
The four agree to take the party to their camp, to talk further (Cassiopeia hugging Merlan and whispering to him in the manner of a concerned lover).
21:12 – 21:30 – At the camp wait two more youngsters; Tanuba Nurai (Male, Human, Dohr'Khustan) and a male Ghaerduun named Hassafar Nemen (from Fey); the former unconscious with Sleeping Ague, the other too afraid to head out.
The group ask the group who they are and they reply that they are students of archaeology and xeno-artifice, who volunteered to accompany a professor at Iradesh on an expedition to uncover some Settari ruins he had seen hinted at in some ancient stelae he uncovered in the athenaeum's artefact repository. When asked, they reveal that the professor's name is Leskin Holdt.
At this point Ardwaine goes to have a look at Tanuba, in order to see if she can help his fever break. Meanwhie the group ask the students where Leskin is.
Their hatred of Holdt is plain to see. They explain that they arrived here (along with another five students) some time ago, and at first enjoyed a good working relationship. However, after the accidental death of one student in the bogs near to this site (Camp A), a schism split the group when Leskin announced he wanted to enter the swamps and look there for the ruins.
Four of his students were happy to accompany him, whilst the remaining six refused and demanded that Leskin send them home.
Leskin scornfully refused.
He then insulted them, took most of their food and fresh water, and told them that when they got hungry or thirsty enough they should come and join him and the four.
That was two weeks ago. The Six have found food nearby and have located a small spring of bitter waters which, whilst unpleasant tasting, are not poisonous. They have experimented with the local flora and found several local plants to be edible, and have been catching and cooking the pale crabs that crawl along the white sand beaches at dusk.
However, they are homesick, frightened, and furious with Leskin.
They explain that Holdt and the four headed to the northwest, through the volcanic swamps “where something big and weird waits” and possibly beyond. They mention that the area is often shaken by earthquakes, and that a pall of smoke is visible a little further north, though its source is not.
They also make it clear that they hope Leskin is dead.
21:30 – 22:00 – Ormid thanks the students, and as reward, uses the ancient teleport circle in the temple to open a portal to Lorehaven, allowing the students to at least reach civilisation.
22:00 – 22:20 – The group search the camp for any useful items, and uncover some alchemical torches, a few flasks of strong acid, and a couple of curious unstable “blast patches”; alchemical traps.
22:21 – The group head northwest from the camp, and into the swamps beyond.
22:21 – 00:00 – The group ride spectral steeds summoned by Ormids rituals. With these fabulous mounts they are able to fly through the deadly morass, and monster haunted waters of the bogs.
As they head further northwest, they encounter increasing signs of subterranean volcanic activity; bogs with boiling mud, geysers and areas of mangrove thick with the stink of sulphur and clouds of fetid steam. At one point they spot something massive and tentacled swimming through the slime-wreathed waters of a deep lake. They get a hint of a wide mouth filled with teeth, and three massive eyes set on a single stalk...but outrun it before they are forced to get a closer look. The group also notice (and indeed, were warned by the students) that the amphibians in the swamp hunt in packs, and bear unnatural fangs. Even the lowliest frogs sport sharp teeth and a base cunning.
29/1/50 (on Anathar; heavy tropical rains and thunder through morning, clear and chill evening)
00:00 – 00:10 – The group leave the vile stinking swamps behind and guide their shining mounts through dense and dark jungle that grows on the steep sides of the great bowl in which the swamp rests.
00:11 – The jungle begins to thin out and the group can see ahead an open area of ruins, overgrown with sharp-grass and other weeds, and illuminated with alchemical torches. In the distance the massive form of a slumbering volcano fumes and rumbles, and the group can see plumes of steam rising from several distant points scattered around the site – volcanic vents.
00:11 – 00:20 – The group cautiously move towards the edge of the ruins, and are suddenly surrounded by brilliant magical light. Voices are raised in the distance, and the party prepare to either fight or to use diplomacy, depending on how they are received.
00:21 – Five figures move carefully forwards; four younger people and a confident looking man with wiry, curly hair, a shaggy beard, and a large, black, oiled shotgun pointed at the party – Leskin Holdt.
00:22 – 00:25 – After some initial mistrust, the group manages to convince Leskin to read the letter of introduction from Ezloz. Frowning, the Upper Malgorothian grudgingly invites the party into the camp, to talk.
00:26 – 00:35 – The group are lead from the jungle across an open area, towards several tents. Within the open area stands a vast monument (it seems) of impossible age; a number of glyph inscribed triangles of flinty stone, set at various, apparently random points around a central structure that looks like two of the triangles set together at right-angles.
Closer examination reveals that each triangle is set upon a circular ring of separate stone, each ring (almost totally hidden by the weeds that scrabble over them) bearing fragments of vast runes. Ormid realises that if the triangles were aligned, so too would these vast runes be properly aligned. His artificers soul senses that this mechanism harbours a terrible, destructive potential, and he is simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by it.
As if sensing the artificers interest, Leskin asks him what he thinks the structure is. Ormid replies that he feels it has something to do with opening portals, and Leskin, slightly impressed, explains that he theorises it is actually a weapon capable of projecting and then collapsing a portal at any teleport circle the activator knows the rune sequence for. He surmises that it could devastate a huge area, though with growing frustration he explains that activating the device would require a ritual of some kind – currently lost – and for it to be powered up properly - not possible due to a lack of Settari energy crystals.
00:36 – 01:20 – The group explain to Leskin about the portal over the Grey Sea, the ziggurat city, and the need to collapse the portal. The Upper Malgorothian seems highly amused, and clearly does not believe a word of it. However, he tells the group that if they help him reactivate the (possibly) Settari weapon, his first target will be a teleport circle within the ziggurat.
“If everything is as you describe it, the appearance of this weapons projection within the event horizon of a portal of that magnitude would create an almost unimaginable release of energy through Kelter's First Principle – possibly enough to destroy it in one fell swoop.”
Ormid and Veteran both share an uneasy glance, suddenly fully grasping the epic power of this thing...if it truly is what Leskin feels it to be. Ormid also realises that they do not have the rune sequence for a teleport circle within the Gennamene stronghold, and that the only avenue open to getting one would be...
But they have no choice.
Even after Leskin explains that the ritual needed to activate the device will be somewhere within the main ruins – currently buried under the volcano – and that he would like them to recover it, they feel obliged to agree, trying to ignore the omens as the fiery peak rumbles and an earth tremor shakes the area with a voice like buried thunder.